Brands: Be Relevant or Stay Silent During National Crises

When national emergencies occur, it can be very difficult for social media brand managers to decide how best to address the crisis. Should a brand go silent, or send out a message to the victims? Should they participate in emergency efforts? In light of the Boston Marathon bombings last week, here are the things to keep in mind when deciding how to address these events.



First, if a brand is located close to a national crisis, it can be helpful to find a way to participate in emergency efforts. Whether tweeting out information about where to donate blood or posting emergency contact numbers, a brand that has a large following in a locale close to a disaster may be able to lend significant aid to the relief effort. For companies that aren’t located near the disaster, it makes more sense to post information about how to donate to supporting non-profits. This allows you to leverage your brand’s follower base to help with the tragedy, even though you may be hundreds or thousands of miles away.


Social Media Today shares helpful information last week.


Acknowledge the Crisis

For companies not located near the crisis, it may make sense to send out a message to the victims of the disaster. Acknowledging the event can help humanize your brand at a time when many people are suffering. In the Boston Marathon example, it may also help to post an update about an employee who was participating in the race, or an employee who was in the area on a work trip. This allows you to update your staff even if they don’t currently have access to their work email.


Be Relevant

When deciding on a crisis strategy, keep in mind that your customers want you either to be relevant, or be silent. It doesn’t look good for a brand to be busy pushing a product while everyone else is consumed by a disaster. Conducting “business as usual” shows that your brand is out of touch with the world, and your customers. Find a way to be relevant, or remove yourself from all of the noise that inevitably surrounds disasters.


Cloud computing was not the main concern last Monday.


Shifting A Promotion or Campaign

For brands in the middle of a big product launch or branding campaign, a national tragedy may require a shift in strategy. It’s important to schedule a meeting as soon as possible to discuss internally whether or not to postpone or cancel a promotion. If you’re running social media ads or you’re using a third-party platform like Wildfire to host a promotion, talk with your account manager and find ways to temporarily stop the campaign or move it to a later date. Even though weeks or months of preparation may have gone in to the launch, it’s more important to address the crisis than to appear insensitive. Below, you can see TBS’ “Last Laugh” Twitter ad appearing in a very inopportune place last week.


TBS should have considered pausing their Twitter Ad Campaign.

It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when and where your ads are going to show up on social media, so it’s better to be safe than sorry and delay your campaign.


Don’t Try to Capitalize on the Crisis

The most important thing to keep in mind is don’t try to capitalize on a crisis. Brands like Gap and American Apparel found themselves in hot water when they tried to use Superstorm Sandy to push out promotions for their stores last year. Last week, Epicurious generated backlash over a series of insensitive tweets sent out to those in the Boston area.


Epicurious did more harm than good with these tweets.

This insensitivity is the worst possible scenario for brands—not only do they fail to contribute to relief efforts, but they appear to value generating sales over acknowledging others’ suffering. Without having a plan in place, brands are much more vulnerable to these types of blunders.

Natural disasters and national emergencies are an inevitable part of life. When they happen, it’s important for your brand to find a way to help, be relevant, or stay silent. How does your company manage social media during national emergencies?